Today is an ironic day for me to be writing about success.
Today I managed a grand total of 90 mins of work before sprinting out from an ongoing meeting on the verge of a meltdown. My shame kept me from returning to then office all day. Tomorrow I will be spending at home to recover from the aforementioned meltdown. And the following day I will be ‘having a talk’ with my boss about how we can avoid such scenes in future.
Today I do not feel particularly successful in the eyes of the world.
However, in the style of St Paul, I have much to ‘boast’ about:
– I was top of my year at school: I have 12 GCSEs, 3 A-levels (including an A in general studies, much to my head of year’s delight!)
– I have a masters degree from a Russell Group university: a double major, which was no mean feat I can tell you!
– I have worked full time for 4 years, including shift work (which is absolutely awful. Never, ever do this to autistics.)
– I have specialist qualifications in sustainable building: making me uniquely qualified in the UK.
– I am regularly head-hunted for jobs.
– My boss tells me I’m ready to become a chartered engineer after 2.5 years experience (this usually takes 3-4 years)
– In another life I have been a outdoor activity instructor and am a trained canoe and kayak coach.
– I am married.
– I own my own home.
– Oh and I have grade 8 Jazz Clarinet!
I guess that would be classed as successful in most people’s eyes. This is not said to puff myself up, only show any sceptical NTs what autistics CAN do.
But all that has taken a MASSIVE toll on my health – mentally and physically.
– I can no longer work full time. I work 25 hours a week, and sometimes (this week) not even that.
– I get home from a full day of work and all I can bring myself to do is stare at the wall or watch TV for hours.
– I had to leave outdoor education because I developed chronic chostochondritis – a horribly painful chest condition which I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
– I have chronic back pain and cannot stand or sit for long periods of time.
– I have regular bouts of depression.
– I have no friends (I cannot keep them)
– I am too anxious/easily overloaded to go out in large groups of people: I hate weddings, parties, shopping, networking events, family gatherings.
– If I do attend the above events (out of duty) I can only manage a couple of hours max.
– I had so many meltdowns in my first year of marriage I nearly lost my husband.
– I cannot go on holiday without at least one meltdown.
– I have no hobbies; I have neither the time nor the energy for any.
It’s whether we SHOULD do those things that I am beginning to question.
Why should I only be treated with respect if I can hold down a job?
Why should I only have a voice in society if I pay my taxes?
Why should I only deem myself ‘successful’ if I have these things?
For autistic people, most days it is a genuine success if we get out of bed. We can take great pride in ourselves if we have showered. It is outstanding if we have managed to ready ourselves enough to leave the house.
For me post-diagnosis, now I am armed with a greater knowledge of myself, I am beginning to redefine what success means for me.
What if I could be meltdown free? What if I could learn to manage my anxiety so I can sleep at night? What if I could go on holiday and actually relax? What if I could have the brain power to pursue the things which bring me joy?
Wouldn’t that be the successful autistic? One who doesn’t have to deal with all the overwhelming demands of the world by periodically shutting/melting-down and losing control over their own mind and body, but can work out their individual sustainable level of sensory and social input.
That’s what I’m aiming for in my life anyway. I don’t know if it’s possible but I am going to fight for it with all I’ve got.
Sustainability over success.
Or maybe sustainability is success!